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Kanako Iuchi

Tohoku University

Breakout Room 3.


case study; qualitative; longitudinal; narrative

How can the human dimensions of disaster impacts be more accurately captured and represented in the analysis, modeling and simulation of disasters?

I believe case studies encompassing phenomenological and ethnographic approaches can best capture disaster impacts on people. Each disaster's damage and subsequent effects vary depending on geographic and socio-cultural locations. Thus; an in-depth examination of the case by a mixed method; with an emphasis on qualitative inquiry; is the best way to assess the complexity of the disaster impact. Traditional techniques such as interviews and other statistical data analysis can be used to describe regional characteristics. In addition; continually observing a case is essential to exploring the human dimension because while physical impact could happen suddenly; social impacts could develop over a long span. Long-term observation is powerful; especially when observing people's resilience against disasters by understanding how they gradually react and respond to initial disruptions. Further; an active engagement of researchers in the case study field is critical to connect people's decisions and actions with the transforming environment. Impacts from disasters are multi-faceted; and each dimension is interrelated. Some aspects can only become visible when researchers themselves engage in the environment. An evidence-based narrative would be one of the best ways to represent the data gathered from the case to make sense of the complexities. At least three layers of data-based descriptions are proposed: i) the macro settings on disasters and eco-political settings; ii) relational issues on researchers and research (the middle-range settings); and iii) the micro-settings on the disaster-affected people. Visual information can help to stimulate the imagination.

What type of data and supporting research infrastructure would be necessary to enable novel, transdisciplinary approaches to answering these and other human-centered disaster questions?

To develop an evidence-based narrative; multi-faceted data supporting case descriptions is useful. While past disaster studies rely mainly on simple methods; a new approach would require more dynamic; diverse; and unstructured data to explain cascading effects of disaster impacts. For example; if we study disaster impacts on people in a coastal area; data describing spatial transformation and people’s responses would be critical. While qualitative inquiry can capture people’s responses through such methods as interviews; other real-world information represented with statistical information; engineering designs; and political environment is critical for showing the interrelatedness of disaster impacts. In the example presented here; some critical information to collect would be: i) hazard information – e.g.; physical impacts; hazard risks and causing mechanisms; ii) infrastructure information affecting the spatial form of disaster-stricken areas – e.g.; land use plans and housing status; and iii) guiding timeline of critical events and regulatory setups – e.g.; socio-political factors. Having team members with multi-disciplinary backgrounds with a collaborative mindset would be the most crucial research infrastructure. For instance; with this case example; members trained in planning; architecture; engineering; geophysics; sociology; and political science would provide an opportunity to weave various perspectives into a narrative that could describe transdisciplinary aspects of disaster impacts. In addition; having opportunities to access the case field and work with local people ethically will support nurturing a richer understanding and care for the targeted area.

In what ways can US-Japan collaborations advance these questions in new and important ways?

Working collaboratively on a case in the field will foster common ground in mindsets and mutual understanding for US-Japan members with varied backgrounds. This mutual learning can lead to innovative results on methods; theories; findings; and research agendas. While Japan and the US have nurtured the disaster study field over the years; scholars are trained differently in distinct history; culture; and disaster events. For instance; urban planning in Japan bases its roots in engineering. The field developed when the population grew in the 1960s; the planning solution relies on infrastructures that help people live sanitarily and efficiently. Furthermore; with the repetitive natural hazards affecting the country; investing in engineering has been a reliable approach to managing hazard risk. Meanwhile; US planning extends to considering both urban and rural areas and engineering and socio-economic aspects. Diversity; equity; and vulnerability concerns are addressed more in the US as the society builds on multiple races; ethnicity; and socio-economic disparities. Meanwhile; hazard reduction planning in the US has been limited in the past because disasters are viewed as localized events. Given such differences; Japan and  the US can be great counterparts to fill the gap. For example; Japan can share its long-term disaster research experiences; including the firsthand data it has accumulated. The US can share varied aspects and approaches of disaster research; including time; equity; and justice. The difference in the approaches to disaster studies is a strength for collaboration; both sides can bring in different perspectives leading to innovative results.

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